03 December 2020

Andrew McFarlane Holt, Director at Chartered Surveyors and Property Consultants, Wells McFarlane presents his views on the future of the office market in 2021…

“There’s been a lot of reports in the national media about the state of the office market and the long-term impact of the pandemic on our working habits. Whilst not entirely clear what the new pattern will be, it’s certainly not all negative.

“Early on in the pandemic, there was much written about the “death of the office market”, city centres becoming ghost towns and a widespread acceptance that remote working would become the norm. This was never truly the case in our experience. Whilst there was a dearth in the use of offices, especially high-rise and multi-storey properties, in out-of-town and rural business parks, demand remained equally high and is still present now. Industries such as logistics, technology and home improvement all experienced a surge and we secured deals for businesses in these sectors throughout both lockdowns, facilitating expansions and even helping clients move premises within our portfolio, one of the advantages of using a local specialist!

“Now, the conversation has shifted again to highlight the importance of the physical office. Alongside the obvious economic recovery benefits, the impact on people’s physical and mental health is being raised and close attention paid to the positives of office working – interaction, productivity, sense of belonging, and a greater distinction between work/life balance. In fact, CBRE research* suggests most employees want to explore a hybrid way of working, ideally two or three days in the office and some 69% of employers anticipate offering office access to all employees by mid-2021.

“Again, this aligns with our experience of the past year and what we anticipate more of in 2021. Landlords are working more creatively and practically to present their spaces securely. We have seen examples of larger units being reconfigured to suit freelancers or the self-employed, open plan spaces partitioned into pods with standing desk areas and covered head space – some really imaginative and innovative solutions to appeal to the whole business community. Equally business owners are thinking more strategically, and we’ve had plenty of conversations with tenants about mitigating risk but also how they might scale back up as recovery happens.

“So, I think my overall message for 2021 is encouraging businesses not to panic. Yes, things are different and office spaces might have to work harder but they’re undoubtedly still needed and transactions are happening. Seek advice, manage expectations and we might just strike a solution that’s better all round.”